Blood-sucking phlebotomine sand flies are the vectors of the protozoan parasites Leishmania spp. Different Phlebotomus species transmit different Leishmania species causing leishmaniases which are neglected diseases emerging/reemerging in new regions. Thirteen sand fly species, ten belonging to the medically important genus Phlebotomus and three belonging to Sergentomyia are known in Greece. An increasing number of human and dog cases are reported each year from all parts of the country including the Aegean Islands. However, no previous study has been conducted on the sand fly fauna on the islands, except for Rhodes and Samos. The aim of this study was to investigate sand fly species in eleven small Aegean islands; to understand species-specific relationships with environmental and climatic factors and to compare sand fly community parameters among islands. A risk analysis was carried out for each species using climatic and environmental variables.
Nine sand fly species: Phlebotomus neglectus, P. tobbi, P. similis, P. simici, P. perfiliewi, P. alexandri, P. papatasi, Sergentomyia minuta and S. dentata, were collected from the islands studied. Phlebotomus (Adlerius) sp. and Sergentomyia sp. specimens were also collected but not identified to the species level. There was a positive effect of distance from the sea on the abundance of P. neglectus, S. minuta and S. dentata, and a negative effect on the abundance of P. tobbi, P. simici and P. similis. In general, temperature preferences of sand fly populations were between 21 and 29 °C. Nevertheless, there were significant differences in terms of temperature and relative humidity preference ranges among species. The most important species found, P. neglectus, was indisputably the most adapted species in the study area with a very high reaction norm, favoring even the lower temperature and humidity ranges. Overall, the sand fly fauna in the islands was very rich but there were differences in species diversity, as indicated by the values of the Shannon-Wiener index, along with evenness and richness of the sand fly fauna between the islands and altitude ranges in the islands.
The study indicated that the Greek Aegean Islands, however small, maintain a rich sand fly fauna. This includes important vectors of Leishmania spp. representing a risk for parasite transmission to humans and dogs along with the danger of maintaining new Leishmania spp. if introduced to the area.